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John Kerry condemns Israeli settlement-building in farewell speech

US secretary of state John Kerry has torn into Israel for settlement-building, accusing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of dragging Israel away from democracy and rejecting the notion the US abandoned Israel in a controversial UN vote.

Mr Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of a biased bid to blame Israel for failure to reach a peace deal.

In a farewell speech, Mr Kerry laid out a two-state vision for peace that he will not be in office to implement, but that the US hoped might be heeded even after President Barack Obama's term ends.

He defended Mr Obama's move last week to allow the UN Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal, the spark that set off an extraordinary and deepening diplomatic spat between the US and its closest Middle East ally.

"If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won't ever really be at peace," Mr Kerry said in a speech that ran for more than an hour, a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly.

Mr Netanyahu pushed back in a hastily arranged televised statement in which he suggested he was done with the Obama administration and ready to deal with President-elect Donald Trump, who has sided squarely with Israel.

The Israeli leader faulted Mr Kerry for obsessing over settlements while paying lip service to Palestinian attacks and incitement of violence.

"Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders," Mr Netanyahu said.

The recriminations marked a low point for US-Israel relations, and a bitter end to eight years of frustrated ties between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu, who quarrelled repeatedly over settlements, the peace process and Mr Obama's nuclear deal with Iran.

It was unclear what impact Mr Kerry's speech, coming in the final days of the administration, might have.

Mr Netanyahu expressed concern that a French-hosted summit next month could lead to an international framework that the UN Security Council might then codify with Mr Obama's assent, boxing Israel in. Yet Mr Kerry seemed to rule out the possibility the president would take more parting shots, such as promoting that type of UN resolution or recognising Palestinian statehood.

The diplomatic fracas erupted last week when the US, in a departure from past policy, decided to abstain rather than veto a UN Security Council resolution calling Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law.

Israel was incensed and Mr Netanyahu claimed the country has "absolute, indispensable evidence" the US spearheaded the resolution.

Mr Netanyahu offered what he called proof of US collusion: a document, leaked to an Egyptian newspaper, that purports to be a Palestinian account of a December meeting between senior US and Palestinian officials, but White House spokesman Ned Price called it a "total fabrication" and added: "This meeting never occurred."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the speech by reaffirming he is ready to resume peace talks if Israel halts settlement construction.

Mr Kerry, unveiling a six-part outline of what a future peace deal could look like, deviated from the traditional US message that foreign powers should not impose a solution. His outline tracked closely with principles long assumed to be part of an eventual deal, and he insisted he was merely describing what have emerged as points of general agreement.

Although he faulted Palestinian leaders for insufficiently condemning violence and terrorism against Israelis, most of his speech focused on Israel. He said the two-state solution, the basis for all serious peace talks for years, was "in serious jeopardy", and called Mr Netanyahu's' government "the most right-wing in Israel's history".

He invoked the widespread concern that the growing Arab population in Israel and the Palestinian territories will eventually make Jews a minority in Israel, creating a demographic crisis unless there is a separate Palestinian state.

"The settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state," Mr Kerry said.

AP

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